Riot police officers enter Diepkloof Hostel in Soweto to look for protesters who were blocking the road stopping cars from driving through the road adjecent to the hostel during a service protest for electricity. 070616 Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

Johannesburg - Police fired rubber bullets and teargas to disperse angry Diepkloof hostel residents in Soweto who were protesting against poor living conditions.

The residents were demanding that the City of Joburg explain why they didn't have electricity after begging the government for more than 20 years.

One of the organisers of the protest, Sipho Zwane, said the government had failed to fulfil its promise to demolish the hostel and build decent houses.

“The government told us that they wanted to demolish these old hostels to put us into temporary shacks (while they build houses). It was better because those shacks have electricity but they moved only a few people and stopped,” said Zwane, who said he had been living at the hostel for 20 years.

Zwane said it seemed like the government's plans to change people's living conditions had stalled and that officials ran away every time residents demanded answers.

He said residents had written a letter to the city's member of the mayoral committee for housing, Dan Bovu, asking him for an update on the housing allocation, but had had no success. “He was supposed to come on February 5 but we are still waiting,” he said.

The protesters, mostly women, said they were worried about their children’s health because they lived in hazardous and unpleasant conditions.

Resident Nomalizo Khumalo said she was tired of illegal electricity connections.

“I am worried about my kids because these electricity wires are everywhere,” she said.

“I am fed up with izinyoka nyoka! (illegal electricity connectors). We need electricity from the government, not houses anymore, because it seems like we lost that battle a long time ago.”

Their worries about their children’s well-being increased when police fired rubber bullets and teargas that exploded in front on the hostel’s daycare centre, where toddlers were playing.

The caretaker, Elina Mazibuko, said: “Teargas stings! The kids started crying and collapsing. I tried to keep them awake by spilling water on their faces but I was also shaken. They had nothing to do with the protest.”

Smangele Buyisa is one of the lucky residents who was moved to one of the new shacks that has electricity. She said it was much better because she could keep her children warm.

The City of Joburg could not be reached for comment.

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The Star